GIRLS HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Buchholz captures first state title
Published: Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 6:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 6:22 p.m.
LAKELAND — Down by 14 points to Davie Nova and the Class 7A state championship just one period old, Buchholz senior guard Jessica Thomas knew she had to step up.
She didn't want the opportunity to make school history slip away.
The Miami signee scored 15 straight points, 26 in all, to jump-start the No. 2 Bobcats, who used a 21-5 spurt in the second period Saturday to take the lead and never looked back, dominating the No. 3 Titans, 63-49, for the school's first girls basketball title.
It was a fitting end for Thomas' high school career at The Lakeland Center, the lone returning starter from two final four teams that came up short. She gave Buchholz coach Rebecca Williams a huge hug as she came off the court with less than two minutes left and the title secured.
“It does erase a lot,” said Thomas, baby sister of former Buchholz and Miami Hurricane great Lamar Thomas. “It feels so much better now. If we had won it that first year (2011), we wouldn't have known what it was like to lose. So I feel like losing really did help us.”
And for Williams, a 1992 graduate of Buchholz High who had brought the Bobcats so close before, to finally accomplish that crowning achievement was a bit overwhelming.
“This is amazing, I can give my high school, my alma mater, its first state championship in women's basketball,” she said. “I don't know if it really hit me yet. It is amazing. When I get back to work, my high school coach Marilyn Booher is still there, I am going to make sure I thank her because of everything she taught me. I kind of took her words and put them into my coaching style, and we have won a lot of games over the years and now have a state title.”
As dominant as Buchholz (28-4) was at the end, it looked nothing like that at the beginning when the Titans (22-8), who lost in the state semifinals last year just like the Bobcats, seized control early, going on an 11-0 run for a 20-6 lead heading into the second period.
“We weren't putting any pressure on the ball,” Williams said. “That first timeout going into the second quarter, I was like, ‘We are playing Nova style of basketball, we need to pick it up and play Buchholz basketball.' And the game started turning around in our favor.
“That was my biggest thing coming into this game was not let them slow the pace down, to continue to keep running in transition. Once we started doing it, we got back on top.”
Thomas, who had five assists and five rebounds in the game and four of the Bobcats' six first-period points, scored the first 11 in the second (15 straight in all), capping it with her first 3-pointer, to close the gap to 24-17. That 3-pointer started a 13-0 run to close the period for Buchholz, but more importantly, put it in front, 27-25, at the half.
The Bobcats never relinquished that lead.
“Those 15 points definitely came off adrenaline, that's where my leadership actually stepped up,” Thomas said. “I can't say last year I would have taken that many shots as I did. This year, with me being that leader, I knew someone had to step up and take control of the game because I knew how bad we all wanted it. It was just someone had to take charge of it.”
Thomas did have a lot of help, especially from junior guard Jaz Rollins, who scored 18 points, 14 in the second half.
Nova did close Buchholz's lead to one twice in the third at 33-32 and 37-36, but each time the Bobcats found a way to extend it. During their 22-7 run that ultimately turned a close game into a runaway rout (59-43) for Buchholz, Thomas scored just five points.
Freshman center Keona Thompson had a game-high 16 rebounds and scored eight points. Buchholz also got great contributions from fellow freshmen Chelsea Clark and Aniya Noble.
“The win is great, this team really deserves it,” Williams said. “This was the unexpected team. I don't ever feel my team is not going to win.
“This year, from the outside, the thought was because Buchholz lost so much (four starters from last year) they weren't going to make it. We came in with the unexpected. Next year, even though Jessica will be gone, with as well as the freshmen have played, they won't mention that word unexpected anymore.”